Public Whipping on Dame Street in Dublin

DUBLINTIMEMACHINE:Today’s trip in the time machine will take a very sinister surprise turn, and its original purpose is dark enough already! It’s the 24th of April 1815. We find ourselves on a Dame Street utterly thronged with shouting people and snorting horses. A crudely hand-drawn poster on a wall beside us says
“Public Whipping Today. Evil Chimney Sweep Who Battered 6-Year-Old Apprentice”.
In our merchants’ disguises, we shoulder through the rabble and get a good vantage point amid the rowdy crowd on Cork Hill. We’re here to witness some violent justice carried out. But first a quick gander at the glorious collonaded building beside us. This neoclassical beauty is the Royal Exchange. But our 21st-century eyes recognise it as City Hall.
The Royal Exchange was like a clubhouse for the merchant’s guild, with the money changers and stockbrokers thrown in. There have been impressive government buildings in this area from Viking times of course. The nearby Thingmote was a centre of government for kings like aul Sitric.
The pale Exchange was built between 1769 and 1779. Before that it was the site of Cork House, the elegant townhouse of the powerful Earl of Cork. Their neighbour was the then-famous Lucas’s Coffee House. Remember cafés back then were more like dens of revolution and intrigue than sterile Starbucks. Several moves later for the Exchange ended when a shiny new thoroughfare, called Parliament Street, was created by the Wide Streets Commission. This proved the perfect location for a the cities merchants.
Now back to this blood-crazed crowd and the shock awaiting us! People are climbing lamp posts, scrambling over walls and wrought iron fences to get a look at the action. Every window on both sides of Dame Street seems to have a half dozen curious heads precariously hanging out. Some spectators even stand and push against the ornamental metal balustrades and balconies on the front of the Royal Exchange.
A trumpet sounds, the audience falls silent. DMP and civic officers emerge onto the marble stairs, a shivering blackened and bruised man is in their custody.
“John Young, chimney sweep, you have been found guilty of the shameful crime of extreme physical cruelty. The victim was William Cullen, your pitiful six year old apprentice and ward. Were it not for the civil conscience of your esteemed customers on South Anne Street bringing your Heinous crime to the Lord Mayor’s attention you may have eventually killed the poor boy!”
The crowd erupts with roars of rage and unrecordable threats and curses.
“For this, you shall be whipped from Green Street back to the Royal Exchange. You will have this same punish again in two months and will then spend two years in Newgate Prison!”.
This time the crowd around us cheers and jumps up and down gleefully. But suddenly we hear a deafening crash, followed by a chorus of horrified screaming that shatters the atmosphere on Dame Street. A cloud of dust hazes the air, the screams now replaced with shocked whispered questions and agonised moaning.
Was it a bomb or a cannon? Maybe a runaway horse? We look up at the Royal Exchange and see that the vantage point where dozens of spectators had cheered and danced just seconds ago is gone. In its place is a large chunky hole in the frontage where once a metal balustrade and tiny stone balcony stood. The balustrade at the front of the exchange collapsed because of the pressure of the crowd surging.
Beneath it on the blood-smeared, metal and rubble-strewn cobblestones lies a pile of bodies and masonry. Nine people are dead. Many more suffer serious or life-changing injuries. To our utter shock and horror, even as the grey mangled bodies are gingerly dragged from the scene, the civic officer continues the speech.
The whipping proceeds as planned. The chimney Sweep receives 421 lashes. And while the dead were covered in cheesecloth shrouds in the city morgue, starving stray dogs lap at the gore puddled on the cobblestones.
Before we leave this horrific scene let’s note that the mighty Royal Exchange will fail soon due to the adverse financial effects of the 1801 Act of Union and the amalgamation of British and Irish currencies in 1825.
It will become our beloved City Hall. But it would be over 50 years before Dublin Corporation implemented architect Thomas Turner’s safer stone design we see today to prevent future tragedies.
Maybe if you listen closely, on a dark silent winter night, you may hear the scream of some shade of those nine poor souls clinging to that fine building’s exterior still?….
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